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Karen J. Alter

Professor (also Law, Legal Studies and African Studies)

B.S.: Cornell University, 1988; Ph.D.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1996
Curriculum Vitae


Research Interest(s): Multilateralism; International Law; International Courts; Politics of Human Rights, Law and Politics

Program Area(s): Comparative Politics; International Relations; Law and Politics

Regional Specialization(s): Africa; Europe; Latin America

Subfield Specialties: Comparative Historical Analysis; International Organizations and International Law; International Theory; Law and Politics


Karen J. Alter is Professor of Political Science and Law at Northwestern University, a permanent visiting professor at the iCourts Center for Excellence, University of Copenhagen Faculty of Law, and the co-director Research Group on Global Capitalism and Law at the Buffett Institute at Northwestern University. Alter’s current research investigates the legalization and judicialization of international relations in Europe, Africa, Latin America and with respect to economic, human rights and mass atrocities.  Alter is author of the award-winning book  The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights(Princeton University Press, 2014), and also International Legal Transplants: Law and Politics of the Andean Tribunal of Justice (Oxford University Press, 2017, with Laurence Helfer), The European Court’s Political Power (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Establishing the Supremacy of European Law(Oxford University press, 2001), and more than forty-five articles and book chapters on the politics of international law, comparative international courts, and international regime complexity.  She is also co-editor of the Oxford Handbook on International Adjudication (Oxford University Press, 2014) and International Court Authority (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Fluent in Italian, French and German, Alter’s research has been supported by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Berlin, the Howard Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, the DAAD, and the Bourse Chateaubriand Scientifique. Alter is member of the New York Council on Foreign Relations. She serves on the editorial boards of International Organization, the American Journal of International Law, International Studies Review, Law and Social Inquiry, Journal of International Dispute Settlement and (previously) European Union Politics. Alter is chair of the American Political Science Association’s International History and Politics section, and serves on the Executive Committee of the American Society of International Law. Alter has been a visiting scholar at the Northwestern Law School, the American Academy in Berlin, the Institute d’Etudes Politiques, the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Auswartiges Politik, Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, Harvard Law School, Seikei University, the Sonderforschungsbereich of Universitat Bremen, and the American Bar Foundation.


Books  Book Cover: The New Terrain of International Law by Karen Alter

Select Publications

  • Karen J. Alter, James T. Gathii and Laurence R. Helfer “Backlash against International Courts in West, East, and Southern Africa” With Laurence Helfer and James Thuo Gathii. European Journal of International Law 27 (2): 293–328. 2016.

    Blog discussion August 3-8, 2016 at EJIL Talk!
    Interview with Karen Alter at EJIL:Live!

  • “Regional Dispute Settlement” with Liesbet Hooghe. Tanja A. Börzel/Thomas Risse (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Comparative Regionalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016: 538-558).
  • “The Evolution of International Law and Courts.” Oxford Handbook of Historical Institutionalism, Orfeo Fioretos, Tulia G. Falleti, and Adam Sheingate, eds (Oxford University Press, 2016: 590-610).
  • “A New International Human Rights Court for West Africa: The Court of Justice for the Economic Community of West African States.” With Laurence Helfer and Jacqueline McAllister. American Journal of International Law. 107 (4): 737-779. 2013.
  • “The Global Spread of European Style International Courts.” West European Politics 35 (1): 135-154. 2012.
  • “Nature or Nurture: Judicial Lawmaking in the European Court of Justice and the Andean Tribunal of Justice.” With Laurence Helfer. International Organization 64 (4) 563-92. 2010.
  • “Islands of Effective International Adjudication: Constructing an Intellectual Property Rule of Law in the Andean Community.” With Laurence Helfer and Maria Florencia Guerzovich. American Journal of International Law 103 (1) 2009: 1-43. 
  • “The Politics of International Regime Complexity.” With Sophie Meunier Perspective on Politics 7 (1) 13-24. 2009.

Courses taught

Undergraduate level

  • PS 101: The International Politics of Human Rights
  • PS 343: The Politics of International Law
  • PS 347: Ethics and International Affairs
  • PS 395: International Organizations and National Policy
  • PS 398: Honors Thesis Seminar

Graduate level

  • PS 440: International Relations Theory
  • PS 442: International Organization
  • PS 443: International  Law and International Politics

Law School

  • International Courts and Tribunals


  • Certificate of Merit for a Preeminent Contribution to Creative Scholarship, American Society of International Law, 2015.
  • Best Book, ILAW Section of the International Studies Association, 2014.
  • Honorable Mention Chadwick F. Alger Prize for the best book published on the subject of international organization and multilateralism. International Studies Association2014.
  • American Academy Berlin Prize, 2012.
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, awarded in the field of law, 2011.
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